Lilly Valore (B.F.A. '19, contemporary dance) was recently asked to speak at the Dance/USA Annual Conference about equality and representation of LGBTQ dancers in the industry. Valore reflects on this experience, and gives unique insight into how trans* community support at the Conservatory is making progress and leading the way.
How did you learn about the Dance/USA Conference, and how did you get asked to speak there?
I learned about the Dance/USA Conference through a transgender man named Sean Dorsey. Sean owns a dance company in San Francisco, California and had heard of me through Conservatory graduate AJ Parker, who was doing a show in New York City and became good friends with Sean. Sean asked AJ if he knew of any transgender or non-binary dancers to speak on the panel, and he referred me.
What was your presentation was about?
The presentation, which I did with three other presenters, was about how we as a dance community can be more inclusive of transgender and non-binary people. We talked a lot about how trans* and non-binary people are the same as everyone else and deserve the same rights to audition for particular roles. We also discussed how some choreographers have to be more supportive and open-minded about gender roles in dance, and understand how to properly cast transgender people like myself. Another key message was how local dance studios can be more proactive about establishing gender-neutral bathrooms. Some younger dance students may not know the terminology behind what they feel in their body, but simply seeing something like an inclusive bathroom might make a huge difference in their lives, and help them feel like they have a safe space. I remember not always feeling supported at my studio because everything was male and female, and my mom didn't believe in who I was becoming, so there was no initial guidance for me when it came to me being who I wanted to be. I feel that if I had gotten that support from my dance studio as a feminine male at the time, I probably would have had an easier time going into the difficult teenage years.
Who did you present with?
I presented with three other individuals: Sean Dorsey, the amazing man who invited me to this wonderful event, who is the “first acclaimed transgender modern dance choreographer in the U.S.”; Cathy Young, former dean of dance and now executive director of the Conservatory, who gave the audience perspective on how she supported me as the first trans woman at the institution; and Leesha Zieber, a local professional dancer in the San Francisco Bay Area. Leesha identifies as non-binary and prefers they/them pronouns. Leesha has been to many auditions and expressed feeling excluded because most audition advertisements specify “female dancers needed” or “male dancers needed” rather than “all genders needed.”
What was a typical day like at the Dance/USA Conference?
A typical day consists of a bunch of workshops on how you can be a better dancer within the dance community and how much it takes to be a successful dancer/choreographer. Workshop topics included dance management, how to run a dance company, how to get funding, supporting transgender people in the dance world, and creating movement that cultivates audiences. These are just a sample of the many workshops I was able to experience over the four days that I was there. I was able to spend an hour with different companies and hear their perspectives on these issues and how they go about particular decisions for their company.
How did your experience as a conference presenter impact your worldview [as a student and artist]?
I think just being myself made a huge impact on dance company members from around the world. Being vulnerable and not having to worry about what anyone thought about me for once was amazing—the conference was a free and open space where I could express myself. I didn't care if anyone agreed with me or not. I was able to let people know what someone like myself goes through on a daily basis. Cathy Young was very proud of me and was very emotional after hearing me speak so freely and naturally. I have wanted to share my experiences and perspective with the dance community for a while, and I went in with an open mind. I think my experience at the conference made me aware that we have a long way to go to be inclusive of the LGBTQ community. The dance community confuses me: why wouldn’t people like me be more supported within this community? I just want the community to be more supportive of one another so that we can move forward.
What key lessons and skills did you learn at the conference?
As a Conservatory student, I brought my discipline and what I have learned about myself at the institution. Not only did I bring a professional perspective to the conference, but I learned how to market myself when meeting all types of individuals. I was able to speak with a lot of artistic directors, and they asked for my opinion on how they could be more supportive of trans people and I was able to support them with ways for them to move forward and succeed as companies. I am very proud to be able to talk to professional dancers who want be more supportive of trans people. I think it's important for me to teach people so that when I start auditioning for companies I will feel like I have a fair chance at getting a job and that I won't be judged based on my gender identity. It was wonderful to finally be able to express myself as the human being that I want to be. Now that I have fully transitioned I feel completely whole—like nothing in the world can stop me.
What has your experience been like at Boston Conservatory at Berklee as a trans* advocate and current student?
This is a loaded question—I have felt so amazing knowing I am paving the way for trans women who come after me. For me, this is not about being the first trans woman, but about making sure my community at the Conservatory is aware of people like myself and how to handle future trans Conservatory students. I will never sit here and say it's been easy—I have so much to juggle—being someone people look up to, while also dealing with personal struggles like passing my courses, maintaining relationships, dealing with stereotypes, and now, struggling with a government who does not agree with my community. But what keeps me going is knowing I am making a huge impact for the institution. I think it's going to encourage so many groups of people to come to the Conservatory. When you are applying to a school, you look for people who look like you in the advertisement, and when you don't see a mirror reflection you become discouraged. I never let that bother me. I've always looked at myself as someone who is a trailblazer with my own style.